Sunday, January 29, 2006

Topsy Turvy

I finally saw this excellent 1999 Mike Leigh movie about Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. It was the costumes that won the Oscar, but there's nothing about this movie that isn't wonderful, from Leigh's scintilating dialogue to the first rate work of dozens of fine British actors, led by Jim Broadbent, who is masterful as William Gilbert, brilliant, inept, domineering and supercillious by turns. Shirley Henderson (aka Moaning Myrtle) is fascinating and deeply moving as the tippling soprano who first creates Yum-Yum.

That might not be anyone more qualified than Leigh to have made this love letter to the theater. He's not only a great filmmaker, but he's a genuine man of the theater, having written, I don't know, a gazillion plays (including Abigail's Party, now playing on Broadway). He is famous as a filmmaker for his rigorous improvization-based rehearsal process.

And, of course, The Mikado, of which we get generous, sumptuous helpings, kicks all kinds of ass, and the successful opening night (glimpses of which are dispersed throughout the movie) is genuinely thrilling. David Edelstein, formerly of Slate, says the movie takes solong to get going that "only a lunatic would call it a masterpiece." Even so, he conceeds, "As Leigh's camera pulls back over the orchestra and the audience, this movie feels like one of the saddest and loveliest tributes to the lives of artists ever made." What could possibly be better than that?

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